Monthly Archives: August 2006

No Jury on Earth Would Convict Him

Unless there turns out to be some skulduggery going on, and this isn’t the real story or the neighbor’s proven innocent, this man is going to walk.

I don’t condone murder or vigilantism, but I think “He needed killing” will turn out to apply even in Connecticut.

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Public Domain Book Scans on Google

You go to books.google.com and you select “full view”. Then pick your search term. You can download PDFs of the public domain books Google’s got up.

I don’t think much of their viewer format — or of PDFs, for that matter. But… any free book in a storm, ne?

Layamon’s Brut, in the original, with a prose translation at the bottom of each page.

The huge A Menology of England and Wales, Or, Brief Memorials of the Ancient British and English Saints. And the Cornish ones. Yep, it’s actually a Catholic book of UK saints! Awesome! Highly recommended for parents who want to name their kids something weird yet still have a valid saint’s name. Sidwell is a lovely modern girl’s name, ne? Or how about Avrildis? :)

People wishing to avoid treading on USCCB territory yet wishing to podcast encyclicals can find a good number of public domain translations, if you poke about in libraries or online. Here’s Pope Gregory XVI (with anti-Catholic annotations!). Watch out for mouth foam flying from the footnotes.

Seriously, though, podcasters can find plenty of apparently public domain material on the EWTN website or papalencyclicals.net, as well as vatican.va. (Vatican.va only goes back to Pope Leo XIII or so, at this point.) The problem is that none of these sites feel like telling you where they got their stuff and who translated it when. Sigh.

Have fun!

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Watchers, Not Doers.

Harlan Ellison is one of those people who alternates between being brilliant and insightful, and being a total jerk. Now, I respect him as a writer, but I always doubted some of the stories of his jerkishness. I mean, if he was really that bad, how could people allow him to do jerkish things without doing anything proactive about them? I mean, yeah, he knows martial arts, and yeah, he’s short. But why do so many fans tell horror stories about his doings that don’t include, “So I punched him in the gut, and he whined about it afterward, but he didn’t bother me again”?

He apparently capped his career at Worldcon’s award ceremonies this year. (Yes, in front of God, TV cameras, and everybody.) Connie Willis was emceeing or something, and Ellison was up for some kind of lifetime achievement award. Apparently, Willis told him to behave, and Ellison groped her breast in some kind of (he claims) bizarre attempted joke.

Well, the joke went over like a lead balloon, if that’s what it was intended to be. It certainly counted as some kind of assault.

But here’s the kicker. Now, even if Connie Willis was too stunned (or fearful of hurting the elderly Ellison) to give Harlan the back of her hand, or inform him that if he didn’t apologize at once he’d be drawing back a bloody stump — <B>why didn’t anyone else do it for her?</B> All those editors and writers, smofs and BNFs, all those Hugo Awards security guys — why the heck did they let it go?

Why didn’t they confiscate his award and throw him out of the con, or at least take him away and give him a good talking to? I guarandamntee they’d’ve done that to some feckless teenager who’d groped a multiple Hugo winner.
And what’s the use of bitching about it afterward, if you’re not going to do anything to stop it right then?

Oh, wait. If you let Harlan go, you don’t have to worry about his amazing geezerly martial arts skills beating your butts. And you can’t go on your blog later and blame it all on Bush.

So this is where we are: Not enough societal decorum to prevent the incident. Not enough societal confidence for a good rousing slap. Not enough male overprotectiveness to swarm the groper and make him step outside. Not enough societal angry feminism to jump in with a sisterly knuckle sandwich. Not enough libertarianism for self-defense. Not even enough faith in new agey crud to swarm Harlan with sage smoke and wards to drive away his evil spirit.

Not enough of anything for anything, except for bitching — and applause for a later Willis remark, since that didn’t cost the bystanders anything.

Kitty Genovese, please call your office.

UPDATE: People were acting friendly toward Ellison immediately afterward. As in, woman leading Ellison off the stage, immediately afterward.

Social ostracism, folks. It’s a tool.

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Jane Austen and Myths

Enbrethiliel has raised an interesting point. Jane Austen is one of the great writers of the world, and Pride and Prejudice is a great book. But, though one hesitates to complain, it is very true that Austen’s sort of truth is not the mythopoeic sort.

The Brontes, of course, could have written a Big Fat Fantasy Novel with their eyes closed (and probably did). Kipling and Twain were fanboys when they felt like it. But not Austen. Hmm.

The thing is, Gothic novels, notwithstanding the perpetual Scooby-Doo endings, are probably the best equivalent to Big Fat Fantasy Novels. But though Austen obviously read them enough to produce Northanger Abbey, she was much more interested in the Gothic fangirl than in what the fangirl was seeking by reading Gothics. She apparently got great delight in her youth from making jokes about most of English history; kings and noble princes were comedy material for her.

It may, of course, be fate as well as Austen’s mental outlook that produces her wry practicality.  Only Austen would be invited to a palace — so the Prince Regent, in all his determined unconventionalness, could go all fannish about how good her novels were. Also, she may have had many close friends whose romanticism was trying.

But was she really untouched by legends and myths and the old, old stories? Or was she simply a writer so private about such fantastic dreams that she could only make jokes of them? Or did she simply conceal fantasies in discreet modern dress?

I mean, she did tend to fix her heroines up, eventually, in extremely desirable situations which one might easily term ‘romantic’. Sheesh, Darcy might as well own his own frickin’ kingdom, and his sister be the beautiful wronged young princess. Naval captains are romantic. Trying to change someone’s whole life — that’s a fairy godmother or witch’s job, and a very fantastic premise. Taking headers off great heights? Definitely all Gothicky and mythical. But there’s no denying that, even if the components are there, her books don’t have the mythopoeic feel. She didn’t want them to have it.

Still, I wish she’d written us a straight out fairy tale, even a very little one.  I bet it would’ve been good.

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Mary the Unknotter — Patristic Edition!

Some of you may remember my post on the intriguing image of Mary as “Untier of Knots” — solving knotty problems that are hurting marriages, and the like.

Well, it turns out that the Augsburg priest who unwittingly originated this devotion to Maria als Knotenlöserin, aka La Desatadora, was actually not thinking up anything new at all. He was deep in the mind of the Church, studying the Fathers.

From Fr. Livius, this bit of Book III of Against Heresies, by St. Irenaeus of Lyon:

“….thereby pointing to that intercircling which traces back from Mary to Eve. For what is knotted up together cannot be unloosed, except by undoing the whole series of knots, and in such a way that the knots earliest made have to be undone, by first untying the knots that were made later. And so these latter set free the former. Hence, because the unloosing of the first-made must depend on the one made next, it is this latter that has to be undone first. And so said the Lord, The first shall be last, and the last first… For this cause also Luke, beginning his genealogy from Our Lord, carried it back to Adam, to signify that it was He who regenerated them [His own forefathers], not they Him, into the Gospel of life. Even so, too, the knot of Eve’s disobedience obtained its unloosing through the obedience of Mary: for what Eve, a virgin, bound by her unbelief, that same, Mary, a virgin, unbound by her faith.”

I would have gotten there eventually on the podcast. Really. A few months from now…. Anyway, you can see why I think this is very nifty. Also, why I think this 1893 book on the Fathers that I found over at UD is nifty.

This Desatadora site already knew about Irenaeus. Sigh. Must read more!

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Good News, Bad News

First, the good news:

Reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig have been released! Frabjous joy and glee! (Not to mention some serious relief.) This is a wonderful thing.

Now, the bad news:

Among all the other crapola they had to go through, Centanni says he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to “convert” to Islam.

There are two reasons why this is a bad thing. First, Islam doesn’t actually recognize the concept that “anything done under duress doesn’t count”. So every Muslim they meet in their job from now on will expect Centanni and Wiig to obey Muslim law. If Centanni and Wiig announce that they’re not Muslims, they will be apostates. Apostates are pretty much fair game.

I don’t know Centanni and Wiig’s religious beliefs for sure. (I’ve heard Centanni’s Christian, but it’s not like you can easily look stuff like that up.) Still, doing anything under duress is psychologically no fun, and Centanni seemed particularly unhappy about this. But if Centanni and Wiig are Christians… well, it’s definitely no fun having to choose whether to confess one’s faith at gunpoint, when you have family at home you want to live for. But it’s also no fun to live knowing that you didn’t have the stuff of martyrs in you — or that you chose not to have it, anyway.

Moreover, while Christian tradition supports the idea that in every other matter, duress doesn’t count — the very essence from earliest times of being a Christian is that you will not deny your Lord, even under duress. That you will glory, in fact, in defying duress and declaring your faith.

But though Christians revere the martyr and the confessor, they also remember that one of the Apostles betrayed Jesus, one denied Him three times, and the other ten Apostles ran away.

But the one who denied Him lived with his sin, and asked for forgiveness. He was given charge of the sheep and lambs, and strength for his brethren.

And the one who ran away half-naked dared to stand at the foot of the Cross with Jesus’  mother, and so Jesus’ mother became as his own.

(And surely there would have been forgiveness for the betrayer, too, if he had been able to bear to ask it.)

So this is what I say, if Centanni and Wiig are Christian:

There are many of us who are offered the Cross every day, and many of us who, to our shame, refuse to carry it. But the Physician came to heal sinners, and the Church is full of patients as well as nurses. That is our shame, but our glory too. Sure, it’s shameful to sin, and this is a biggie. But the thing to do is not to let the wound fester. Go to the Physician and be healed, as quickly as you can. If he did it for Peter, he will do it for you.

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Popular Devotions

The Armor of God PJs below belong to the same category of prayer as the Rosary. That category is called “popular devotions” — in other words, unofficial prayers and pious practices. Stuff you do on your own or with your family, as opposed to liturgical prayer. It’s the customized parts of a prayer life.

In general, popular devotions are a good thing. Anything that gets people to pray more, to pray always, to keep God and their ultimate fates in recollection — usually good.

However, there’s no denying that some people can abuse prayer just as they can abuse shopping or alcohol or any other normally good thing, and that some people can exploit prayer to exploit other people.

This is why everybody with a prayer life needs to pray sensibly. You don’t need to fear popular devotions; but you do need to figure out which ones are good and helpful, and which ones aren’t. It’s fine to explore different devotions, but you shouldn’t try to include every prayer and practice that comes down the pike into your prayer life every day. There are literally thousands of devotions out there, folks, and people make up new stuff every day.

Here’s an example: a new devotion I came across just the other day. My company did some United Way volunteering, and was sent to help out at a local non-Catholic seminary whose new facility (once a rec center) included a running track. Said running track had a sign near it about this new devotion, and the words of the new devotion were on construction paper on the walls all around the track.

So the first thing we look at, in a new prayer or devotion, is What does this devotion entail? In this case, there was nothing creepy — no weird wording, no bizarre actions required. It was a passage from Colossians: 3:1 – 3:16. (If I had been given a copy of this, I would look at it to see whether anything was weirdly translated or left out. But I think it was fine.)

The explanatory sign promised that this prayer was better than the Prayer of Jabez (so’s practically everything), and that if you said it every day for six weeks, it would improve your life.

Right there is a warning sign. The primary purpose of pious prayers and practices is not to get guaranteed results. If you do it because it comes with a warranty, you’re not being very pious. Now, nothing’s wrong with asking for what you want and expecting to get eggs instead of snakes. But.

God is your Father and Brother and the Body you are part of. He is not your vending machine. If you expect to insert Prayer A and get Result B every time, either you are talking about a covenantal promise and have a very impoverished view of the nature of covenant law (as a contract that compels rather than becoming part of a family and God’s plan), or you are talking about casting a spell which compels God to do your will. Neither attitude respects God even as a person, much less as the Creator and Redeemer and Spirit, dwelling within everything and beyond everything, in unapproachable light.

The Sacraments, for example, are covenantal promises. If you approach them with awe and respect and an open heart, putting God’s worship first, you will find that Result B is only “the same result every time” in the same sense that the sun comes up every morning. But the Sacraments are not there to improve your life, along the lines you direct and no other. They are there to transform you, along God’s lines. If you take the wrong attitude, you may turn away God’s grace, or you may force that grace to act upon you in unpredictable ways to get your attention. It isn’t like God’s a tame lion. :)

However, going back to our example: the next thing to ask is, “How is this a prayer?” It’s a Bible passage that’s an exhortation, not a prayer. So this isn’t a prayer at all; it’s a devotional practice. In this case, a repetition of useful words for purposes of exhorting oneself to virtue. In other words, it’s Christianized “Every day in every way, I’m getting better and better” to tell yourself exactly what you should be working on to get better and better.

Which is a perfectly okay activity; it’s just not a prayer.

(So why would someone say something is a prayer when it’s not? At a very academic sort of seminary? Still kinda boggles the mind.)

In some ways, devotional practices like this require more discernment than prayers. You can accumulate pious practices all day, and not have them be more useful to you than a tic. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with putting a little Christian culture into your life. But don’t expect guaranteed results in six months or your time back. That’s just silly.

Other important discernment questions about new devotions:

How much does it cost? If it isn’t free, or requires you to pay someone, that’s a red flag. Only dangerous cults and conmen make you pay to pray. If you’re Catholic, know that nothing blessed should ever be bought or sold (because that would be selling a blessing, which is simony), especially relics. (Especially first-class relics. Don’t sell bits of people!) If you’re anyone, be suspicious of overly expensive religious goods.

What picture of God does it promote?

Is it way too obsessed with the end of the world?

Does it come with threats if you don’t do it, or do it wrong?

Is it a chain letter, or does it require similar viral distribution?

There are also discernment procedures to follow. Basically, test for the Spirit and look at the fruit. If people engaged in a practice are led to do creepy stuff, or promise extravagant results, or hate and despise people who don’t do the devotion or even question it… that’s probably not something to get into. (Even if the prayer is good, the people involved with it may abuse the devotional practice. You may not want to spend too much time with people like that.)

A good devotional practice should help you to love God and your neighbor more deeply. There are lots of ways to do that. Pick something useful, try it out, and if it doesn’t help you love God, feel free to stop. Devotions, like every other created thing, are a good servant but a bad master.

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